Magazine article The Christian Century

Faking It

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faking It

Article excerpt

IT IS ALWAYS interesting to me how the same set of books can evoke different questions for different groups of students. Each fall my colleague Dudley Rose and I read our way through a range of accounts of ministry with our new M.Div. students. Inevitably one issue emerges that is close to the heart of the group. Some years it is the theme of calling. In others, it's the relationship between academic study and the practices of faith. Some years, we focus on spiritual formation; in other years, we explore how to organize communities for change.

This year, the theme that has emerged in Intro to Ministry Studies is, in the words of one of our students, "faking it." We began the term with Simone Weil, who wrote of "experimental certainties" and encouraged us to act as if we believed things before we actually believed them. If we don't act as if the attention cultivated in study increases our ability to be present to God and our suffering neighbor, she argued, we will likely never have the experience of it.

We moved next to Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, written to his friend, John of Ravenna, who had criticized Gregory for wanting to escape the burden of the office of pope to which he had recently been elected. I am writing this book, Gregory told John, to explain exactly how onerous this burden is to me. As onerous as it was, Gregory accepted it, dedicating himself to be the servant of the servants of God.

Then we read Jonathan Rosen's novel Joy Comes in the Morning. In one scene, Rabbi Deborah Green offers pastoral reassurance to a woman who has nearly died, even though she herself is full of doubt. "Faker!" an inner voice shouts at her as she prays with the woman. But pray she does.

For students struggling to discern their calling, these accounts of the often fragile connections between inner convictions and pastoral practice flash like emergency signals. Can I be a minister, they wonder, if my beliefs are not settled? If I act as if I believe things I'm not sure I believe (Weil) or take on work in ministry that I don't feel capable of doing (Gregory) or rely on the psalms to speak comfort that I cannot myself feel (Green), am I being inauthentic? Do I have to know I'm called before I can do this work?

Next on our list is Gandhi's autobiography, which he subtitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth for good reason: it is full of stories of his attempts to stretch himself into new ways of living and thinking by experimenting with everything from the way he ate to the friendships he cultivated, from his sexual choices to the ways in which he responded to the bigotry he encountered in the streets of South Africa. …

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